Managing Data for Strategic Decision Making is one of the core courses in the online Master of Business Administration (MBA) in General Business degree program from Longwood University. Most of the program’s courses focus on examining data-informed decision-making in the context of various business applications.

One might assume such a comprehensive emphasis on data in business contexts would be relegated to data science, data analytics and information systems management programs. Yet, Longwood’s online MBA is a generalist degree program designed to prepare business professionals for high-level management and leadership roles in any sector. This program’s emphasis on data highlights the ever-increasing importance of understanding data for top decision-makers in today’s business environment.

What Are the Benefits of Using Data to Inform Decision-Making?

An article from Harvard Business School Business Insights Blog points out that American society “has imbued the concept of ‘intuition’ … with a tremendous amount of prestige, importance, and influence.” As a result, business leaders have long attributed a great deal of their success to trusting their intuition when making important decisions.

When it comes down to it, a person’s “intuition” could be considered a person’s conscious or unconscious analysis of the information, data and experiences they are exposed to. In this way, using intuition to make decisions is a data-informed process.

However, the conscious and unconscious data on which one’s intuition is based can be imperfect. Biases, misconceptions and many other factors can influence biases and detract from the efficacy of decision-making.

This idea highlights the central benefit of data-driven decision-making. Modern data analytics technologies can gather, organize and analyze vast quantities of “big data” exponentially faster and more accurately than can people. These technologies can root out and eliminate anomalous data that could otherwise bear undue focus and weight, leading to bias or inaccurate analysis. Advanced data analytics software can detect and investigate complex patterns and relationships between datasets.

AI-driven machine learning technologies like neural networks and deep learning can provide unprecedented levels of actionable data analysis. Types of analytical results include diagnostic (what has happened), predictive (what is likely to happen) and prescriptive (what you should do about it) information.

Regardless of the analytical style, data analytics can provide leaders with real-time, accurate and high-quality insights into problems and solutions. These insights inform decision-making based on unbiased evidence and accurate predictive and prescriptive analysis.

How Can Business Leaders Develop the Skills Needed to Make Data-Informed Decisions?

When professionals make decisions using modern data analytics, they are more likely to see their desired result. However, data analytics users must first understand the “story” or perspective aggregated information presents. Business decision-makers need a fundamental understanding of data analytics and how to draw insight.

Programs of study like Longwood’s online Master of Business Administration (MBA) can give business leaders foundational knowledge in data-driven decision-making. Business users can use business intelligence (BI) and business analytics tools to access, query and make sense of data. These tools use technologies and methods (like data visualization, natural language processing and graph analysis) to represent data in easily understandable ways.

How Can Data-Informed Insight Aid Decision-Makers?

Importantly, Longwood’s MBA coursework examines how to use data to inform decision-making in diverse business contexts. For example, business users could use insight from data gathered on target-market media consumption preferences to make decisions regarding marketing strategy and resource allocation. Likewise, supply chain management professionals could use business analytics tools to analyze supply chain operations, identify inefficiencies and create data-informed plans to remediate those inefficiencies. These are examples of focused applications of data-driven decision-making in the context of distinct business functions.

Business leaders can use data to inform large-scale macro decision-making as well. Predictive analytics can give insight into projected market conditions and trends. Prescriptive analytics can posit potential opportunities for global market expansion or securing competitive advantages in existing markets. Understanding how to use data at this level can help leadership plan and develop effective growth strategies.

A Forbes article on the “new wave” of data-driven decision-making highlights another benefit of advancements in BI tools and analytics technologies. The availability of data-driven insight these tools provide can help decentralize informed decision-making.

Delegating contextual decision-making to those who understand the context best can simultaneously improve decision-making effectiveness and efficiency. Empowering employees to take this initiative (with proper data governance and oversite) encourages collaboration and fosters a data-driven culture. Plus, deconstructing top-down, siloed decision-making models can free up business leaders’ time and energy, helping them focus on the big decisions that drive large-scale business growth and success.

Learn more about Longwood University’s online General MBA program.